[Intelligence Side Letter to the Rumsfeld Commission Report]

18 March 1999

I. Introduction

A. Origin of this Letter

In the earliest days of the Commission’s work, the Speaker of the House and the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) asked the Commissioners to provide any observations we might have on the following issues:

the extent to which the Intelligence Community (IC) is organized, trained and equipped to monitor and assess the ballistic missile threat to the United States today and into the 21st century;

gaps, if any, which may exist with respect to current and planned capabilities;

any recommendations the Commissioners might have with respect to the current and evolving IC capability to monitor, assess and warn relative to the threat posed by ballistic missiles.

In addition, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) asked that we provide him with any observations we might have as a result of our work in assessing the ballistic missile threat to the United States.

As the Commission went about the task assigned to it to assess the existing and emerging ballistic missile threat to the U.S. these questions were kept in mind. Among its unanimous conclusions, the Commission found that the "Intelligence Community’s ability to provide timely and accurate estimates of ballistic missile threats to the U.S. is eroding."

This paper expands on that conclusion and provides observations on the questions posed by the Speaker of the House and the Chairman of the HPSCI.

In October 1998 the classified version of this letter was delivered to the Congress and to the DCI and other senior leadership of the Intelligence Community. Since then the DCI has taken measures to address issues and observations raised in the classified paper. In early January 1999 the DCI briefed the members of the commission on those measures. At the conclusion of this unclassified version of the side letter, we take note of some of the initiatives reported by the DCI.

B. Background

Before turning to specific issues, we wish to take note at the outset that the nation has long benefited from the human and technological prowess resident in its Intelligence Community. In the course of its work, the Commission was granted extensive access to these resources and drew deeply upon them. We noted numerous examples of superb analytic and technical achievements, many of which informed our work.

At the same time, as experienced users of intelligence, the Commissioners were struck by the dichotomy of the growth in the number, complexity and difficulty of the tasks assigned as a high priority to the IC over the last decade and the erosion of resources it has experienced, both human and technical, over that same period. This dichotomy was striking with respect to the complex task of assessing ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats to the nation.

We noted in our Report on such threats a number of adverse trends in the post-Cold War threat environment affecting the capability of the IC to monitor, assess and warn of ballistic missile threats:

emerging capabilities in a larger number of hostile states;

increased availability of relevant data, technologies and expertise to those states; and,

more sophisticated resort to cover, deception and denial by them.

The cumulative impact of these trends, coupled with a decline in analytic resources in particular, has complicated the IC’s task relative to the ballistic missile threat.

This reality alone would have been sufficient to challenge the Intelligence Community’s capacity to adapt its Cold War collection and analysis models and methods to a profoundly altered threat environment. However, that challenge has been magnified by prolonged internal turbulence. The Community has been buffeted by budget cuts, isolation, excessive turnover, a decline in scientific and engineering competence, a highly-charged political atmosphere, foreign penetration of the intelligence community, and stovepiping of functions and information within the IC. Finally, for policy makers to effectively engage analysts with respect to what they know, what they don’t know and what they think about the evidence they have gathered, analyzed and presented, the products need to routinely include alternative hypotheses as to the meaning of the intelligence presented.

We observed that senior users of intelligence, in the executive and legislative branches, bear a share of the responsibility for the erosion of the IC’s ability to provide timely and accurate estimates of the threat. The IC needs a clear and manageable set of priorities. The guidance provided to the IC by the executive branch in Presidential Decision Directive 35 (PDD-35) assigns a high priority to many different issues. Both the executive and legislative branches habitually task the IC on an ad hoc basis, driven more by contemporary issues than long-term intelligence requirements. At the same time the military Services and regional Commanders-in-Chief have become heavily dependent on IC collection and analysis resources in performance of their missions. The result is a detrimental competition within the IC for assets to respond to near-term demand and long-term requirements and between the IC, the executive branch, Congress and the military for the application of collection and analytic resources.


The erosion in the capabilities of the IC is exacerbated further by what the Commissioners observed as a failure of senior users of intelligence to interact knowledgeably with the producers of intelligence. Given the schedule of senior users, an analyst rarely has the opportunity to reflect the depth of what he or she may know on a given subject. Unless and until senior users take time to engage analysts, question their assumptions and methods, seek from them what they know, what they don’t know and ask them their opinions—and do so without penalizing the analysts when their opinions differ from those of the user—senior users cannot have a substantial impact in improving the intelligence product they receive. For the process of intelligence, collection and analysis to be a self-correcting and self-improving one, like most processes it requires a feedback mechanism designed to improve the process itself. That mechanism can only be provided by knowledgeable and engaged users.

Intelligence resources (human, technical and financial) allocated to the monitoring of ballistic missile and WMD developments have declined significantly in the past five years. This has occurred despite the prominence of the proliferation issue for public policy.


II. Key Issues

A. Priority Given to Monitoring and Assessing the Ballistic Missile Threat

1. Intelligence Priorities Established by the President

Presidential Directives and the means to implement them are appropriately classified and any complete discussion is not possible at the unclassified level. The Commission found that the priorities and management arrangements creates conflicts that are often resolved to the detriment of long range strategic issue collection. The proliferation of requirements for the IC across many countries, issues and priorities assures that few topics will receive in depth coverage. The fact that so many of the requirements relate to the support of real-time operations—support to military and diplomatic operations, anti-drug and anti-nuclear smuggling, political analysis of unstable governments—assures that near-term operational issues will receive the greatest attention while longer-term strategic issues are left to be dealt with as time and resources may or may not permit.

In the Commission’s view, this emphasis on near-term issues and operations needs to be moderated considerably, especially as it affects the ballistic missile and WMD threats. To provide timely and actionable warning against these threats requires long-term, in-depth studies of ballistic missile and WMD developments. Such studies require the creation of a dedicated cadre of analysts with access to collection resources. Treating the threat as one of a hundred or more high priority issues, all of which are placed on a back burner with each crisis and contingency that comes along, will not improve the capability of the IC to provide actionable warning. If near-term issue demands cannot be moderated, then additional resources must be provided so longer-term issues can and are consistently addressed.

2. Ballistic Missiles and WMD as a Strategic Threat

The ballistic missile and WMD threat are not normally treated as a strategic threat to the US, on a par with any other highest priority issues. As noted in our Report, nations intent on developing such capabilities do so for reasons of their national interest. That is not how the IC treats these threats today. In our experience, intelligence about the ballistic missile and WMD threat is sought and produced principally to support the development or enforcement of non-proliferation measures. The ballistic missiles and WMD should also be treated as instruments of state power being developed by a country for a strategic purpose, rather than as contraband traded contrary to international norms. Because ballistic missiles and WMD capabilities are treated as contraband, attention is focused primarily on the process by which technology, techniques and technicians are transferred from seller to buyer. Because trade in this contraband is subject to sanction due to national law or international agreement, attention is often focused primarily on trying to trace the evidence of the activity to its source and determining the complicity of the seller and its government in the sale. Less attention is focused on the scope, pace and direction of a nation’s programs and the technical characteristics and doctrine for the employment of completed systems.

The proliferation of WMD and ballistic missiles is a global problem, with nations that are buyers of either or both often sellers of either or both as well.

Considerably less attention is given to:

the motivations of those who seek to acquire such capabilities;

the leverage the capability might impart to the buyer in local, regional or global affairs;

the doctrine that the buyer might develop to guide the deployment and employment of the capability;

the technical state, pace and potential growth paths for ballistic missile and WMD programs in countries of concern;

the likelihood that buyers are cooperating among themselves to enhance their respective capabilities’;

the effects of foreign deception and denial activities on the ability of the US to monitor and assess the threat.

We believe that the DCI needs to direct the relevant analytic centers to assess ballistic missile and WMD capabilities as strategic programs that pose a threat to the United States. Proliferation of technology should be treated as one factor affecting the strategic calculations of a given country. The analysts in these cells need to be able to task collection assets, have access to information wherever it may be held within the IC, encouraged to challenge each other’s findings and instructed to employ analytic methodologies more comprehensive than those often used in the IC. Using outside expertise should be encouraged. Creating dedicated cells is not a matter of organization alone. In addition more, and more broadly trained, analysts are needed to identify tasking requirements and opportunities, perform the required analyses, and fashion the finished intelligence.

B. Analytic Resources and IC Skill-mix

The methodology employed by the IC in collecting and analyzing intelligence on the ballistic missile and WMD threats needs to be revised. In addition, the analytic depth of the community focused on these threats needs to be strengthened. The decline in the IC’s scientific and engineering competence is one of several recent developments which have adversely affected the performance of the IC on ballistic missile and WMD developments. The combination should result in higher confidence in the ability of the IC to provide timely warning of the threat.

1. Methodological Approach

The Commissioners believe that an expansion of the analytic methodology used by the IC is needed. Intelligence assessments and estimates must be grounded in the facts. But to be useful, they cannot be limited to reporting only what is known about a particular program. This is so if for no other reason than that the date an event occurs, the date at which we learn of it, and the date on which it is reported can be separated by years, in some cases up to a decade.

Yet, in a large number of cases examined, Commissioners found analysts unwilling to make estimates that extended beyond the hard evidence they had in hand, which effectively precluded developing and testing alternative hypothesis about the actual foreign programs taking place. The Commission would urge that the IC adopt as a standard of its methodology that in addition to considering what they know, analysts consider as well what they know they don’t know about a program and set about filling gaps in their knowledge by:

taking into account not only the output measures of a program, but the input measures of technology, expertise and personnel from both internal sources and as a result of foreign assistance. The type and rate of foreign assistance can be a key indicator of both the pace and objective of a program into which the IC otherwise has little insight.

comparing what takes place in one country with what is taking place in others, particularly among the emerging ballistic missile powers. While each may be pursuing a somewhat different development program, all of them are pursuing programs fundamentally different from those pursued by the US, Russia and even China. A more systematic use of comparative methodologies might help to fill the information gaps.

employing the technique of alternative hypotheses. This technique can help make sense of known events and serve as a way to identify and organize indicators relative to a program’s motivation, purpose, pace and direction. By hypothesizing alternative scenarios a more adequate set of indicators and collection priorities can be established. As the indicators begin to align with the known facts, the importance of the information gaps is reduced and the likely outcomes projected with greater confidence. The result is the possibility for earlier warning than if analysts wait for proof of a capability in the form of hard evidence of a test or a deployment. Hypothesis testing can provide a guide to what characteristics to pursue, and a cue to collection sensors as well.

explicitly tasking collection assets to gather information that would disprove a hypothesis or fill a particular gap in a list of indicators. This can prove a wasteful use of scarce assets if not done in a rigorous fashion. But moving from the highly ambiguous absence of evidence to the collection of specific evidence of absence can be as important as finding the actual evidence.

Adopting broader analytic techniques is not sufficient. The analytic depth of the IC’s all-source analysts also must be improved.

2. Analytic Depth

The DCI has conducted surveys of the analytic depth of the IC. These studies sought to determine whether the IC was well positioned, in terms of education, experience, manpower and plans for growth, to meet the new requirements being placed on the IC. The studies concluded that considerable shortfalls existed.

The underlying fact is that the IC is not yet well positioned to address the ballistic missile threat today. Its analysts are relatively inexperienced, lacking technical, in-country and language skills and, if our experience is indicative, trained for the most part in non-scientific and non-technical disciplines. Improving the IC’s analytic depth will take time. In practical terms this means that over the coming years, when the programs of the countries of concern are likely to reach maturity, analytic capability will lag the evolution of the threats. Analytic capability is the critical link between collection and production. It must be bolstered in the coming years if the IC is to successfully perform its mission to warn of the ballistic missile threat.

Improving analytic capability requires leadership and training, coupled with experience. Senior and middle-level management must provide the leadership and lay out a course of training. This means that they may need to be relieved of some portion of their current responsibilities, or their numbers increased. Training takes time. To make time, the analytic force will need to be increased so that critical issues are not left unaddressed while analysts are in training. Training should include not only classroom time, but time in the field. Time in the field should include periods spent with US national laboratories and industries, in addition to time devoted to learning the history, language and culture of the countries of concern.


DCI SIGINT performance reviews in specific are

Collecting Intelligence

Collecting intelligence on ballistic missile and WMD programs is becoming more difficult. We believe the reasons for this are understood and appreciated within the IC.


1. Conventional Collection

The most evident reason for increased difficulty in collecting intelligence is denial and deception practiced by target countries. In the Commission’s view, the capacity of target countries to deny and deceive the US about their intentions and capabilities is the result of a number of developments, most of which were cited in our Report:

target countries have gained extensive knowledge of US sources and methods of collection through espionage, the willingness of the US to share intelligence, demarches, and unauthorized disclosures. Taken together, this knowledge allows target countries to conduct their activities at times and in ways that aim to frustrate US collection.

2. Special Collection

In addition to conventional means of collection, the Commissioners believe that special collection methods need attention. It is impossible to discuss these measures in an unclassified forum, but suffice to point out that the nation needs to take every possible opportunity to penetrate the security apparatus that is to be found surrounding any other nation’s strategic programs.


Nurture new collection sys stress future systems beyond adversary/foreign understanding

D. Compartments

The strengthening of analytic and collection capabilities needs to be complemented by a reconsideration of the manner in which intelligence is compartmented within the IC. Three anecdotes make the point:

the Commission received three briefings on the ballistic missiles of a country of concern before discovering critical information about the performance of systems in its inventory. It was not until receiving a briefing on an unrelated subject, however, that we discovered why the IC has ascribed those performance figures to the systems in question.

the Commission called together analysts charged with monitoring a number of countries and functions to conduct a comparative look at ballistic missile capabilities across those countries. We discovered, however, that few of the dozen or more analysts in the room, drawn from the IC as whole, possessed the same information as the Commissioners. As a result, it was impossible to conduct a comparative look across the countries and functions.

on more than one occasion the Commission dutifully sat through briefs only to find later we had not received accurate or complete information on the ballistic missile and WMD capabilities of countries of concern. At the end of one, two-hour briefing and after the briefers had left, a mid-level manager informed us that most of what we had heard was incorrect. He said this was because the briefers did not have access to the information contained in the compartments that we were now to be briefed into.

Protecting sources and methods of collection is one valid reason for placing information in compartments; there are others. It is our view that despite the good reasons for doing so, it can have the effect of seriously impeding the flow if information, distorting analyses and resulting in incomplete or misleading information being presented to policy makers. To be sure, a few responsible individuals in the Congress and the Executive Branch have been briefed on the correct information. So far as we know, however, these briefings have been done in a piecemeal fashion, over time and never in a manner that explicitly contrasts what is actually known with what is published. Moreover, the limited distribution of the correct information does nothing to offset the incorrect impression created in the national security establishment more broadly of the nature and magnitude of the threat.

Measures must be found that simultaneously protect US sources and methods of collection, permit analysts to make full use of the intelligence needed to do their job, and make clear to policy makers in the Legislative and Executive Branches the differences between published intelligence products and the information held within special compartments and access programs.


E. Turbulence in Leadership

We believe that success in the Intelligence Community requires the attention, understanding, and leadership of the President and the National Security Council, down through senior policy makers. To be effective, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) needs to be an active, working participant in the senior national security team.

Beyond interest and attention at the top, reasonable continuity of leadership is critical. Excessive turbulence in leadership is harmful to U.S. intelligence capabilities. In the last 10 years, the U.S. has had five DCIs and six Directors of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Further, there have been several periods when these posts were vacant with "acting" Directors and a number of instances when appointments were announced but later withdrawn. Over the period 1988-98, the average time in position was less than two years. If a corporation changed leadership that often, it would likely be in bankruptcy and deserve it. The IC has been weakened in its influence and morale at least in part as a result of the turbulence in key intelligence leadership positions. It is the responsibility of the President as well as the Congress to assure reasonable continuity of leadership.


III. Conclusion and Recommendations

The foregoing observations include suggestions that might improve the capabilities of the intelligence community to monitor, assess and warn relative to the ballistic missile threat to the United States. In addition to these suggestions, we suggest that the Congress consider, in a bi-partisan and bi-cameral manner and in close cooperation with the leadership of the intelligence community, the following initiatives.

1. Review and as necessary re-align current U.S. collection and analysis practices and procedures in light of the new development and deployment patterns that now characterize the ballistic missile and WMD programs of countries of concern. In our view, the intelligence community is not postured appropriately to collect and analyze these patterns of activity. The conclusions and recommendations in our Report were based on the realization that these programs are notably different from the programs conducted by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. Contemporary programs are characterized by extensive access to technology and expertise through the open and black markets, extensive denial and deception practices, few (if any) visible tests, as well as underground production, storage and deployment.

The need for a review and realignment is especially acute in the area of testing. The old Soviet model, characterized by numerous tests, from well-defined locations, over an extended period of time no longer applies today. The US may not have more than a single opportunity to collect critical information on a ballistic missile or WMD test. It is essential that we get it right the first time because we cannot count on getting a second, or third, opportunity as we did

A review would include consideration of whether the US has adapted its technical and human collection assets to a little or no warning environment, whether either or both need to be updated or replaced to meet the demands of the new environment, whether new techniques for managing collection and analysis might yield higher confidence of advance warning of a test, collection of critical information and rapid and expert exploitation of the information, that data is archived and stored for use by analysts at a later date. In addition, it is critical that this short warning capability be tested and exercised on a regular basis.

2. Assess the role played by the IC’s "special collectors" in providing information critical to monitoring, assessing and warning of ballistic missile and WMD threats. In our view, these special collectors provide highly significant information, critical to an understanding of foreign activity, that is not available to the IC by any other means

The assessment should focus on the quality of the information gained by each system, the character of the intelligence product that can be produced when the "take" from these systems are integrated, as was the case in the work of the Commission, whether the information can be acquired by other means with acceptable confidence, and the capacity of target countries or entities to undermine the effectiveness of the systems.

This assessment should be undertaken promptly. Decisions are being made now concerning future collection capabilities. We believe an assessment of the kind suggested here would illuminate the role of these systems and provide a rationale for assuring that the U.S. has the capabilities these systems provide, even if specific systems are replaced by new designs and new architectures.

3. Establish standards of evidence and presentation for intelligence reporting to the Congress. Standards of evidence and presentation are needed to address the widespread and understandable concerns about the politicization of intelligence. Standards will minimize the ultimately destructive, practice of those requesting intelligence reports framing their requests in a manner that suits their purposes and impose on those who reply an obligation to provide responses without regard to the perceived policy preferences of the audience.

Standards for presentation are relatively easy to devise. Our Report lists a number, including a requirement that analysts present what they know, what they don’t know and what they think, and distinguishing between them, and that they use a methodology that includes examination of alternative hypotheses.

Standards of evidence are more difficult to devise, but they are needed. They help impose rigor on analysts, make it possible to compare information from different sources and analysts far more easily, and provide the means for holding analysts as well as mid-level and senior managers accountable for the products delivered to decision makers. At the same time they can help to shield the intelligence process from the effects of what President Clinton called "fudging" by senior policy makers.

The President’s recent discussion of "fudging" occurred in the context of a discussion of the effects of sanctions laws on his flexibility to conduct diplomacy. Faced with the prospect that sanctions might automatically be imposed on a nation should certain information about its activities become known, and believing the sanctions would not advance US interests, the President allowed as how he and other senior policy makers were likely to "fudge" the issue. Fudging is a phenomenon that is not restricted to avoiding to unwanted consequences of sanctions. It is an approach to intelligence related to other policy matters as well. Its practical consequence is that the information received by senior policy makers from the intelligence community may not be studied at all, if studied not be reported in full, or policy makers may refuse to hear what the IC may have to say on a subject, or policy makers may frame questions for the IC in such a way that damaging information is not brought to light.

However its effects are manifested, "fudging" has a corrupting influence on both the policy making and the intelligence communities. A symbiotic relationship between the consumer and the provider of intelligence can be easily established in which they shape their questions and answers to satisfy the needs of the moment or to avoid unwanted, unpleasant, or uncomfortable longer-term consequences.

Fudging is not a new phenomenon nor is it a practice confined to the Executive Branch. Establishing standards of evidence can help to offset inclinations to fudge by assuring those who ask questions that they will receive complete answers and imposing on the IC the requirement to provide such answers.

IV. January 1999 Meeting with DCI

On January 6, 1999, the Commissioners met with the Director of Central Intelligence and senior officials of the Intelligence Community. The Commissioners were briefed by IC staff as to the steps that the IC has taken and/or is planning to take related to issues raised both in the Commission’s Report to Congress and in the classified version of this Intelligence Side Letter, which had been presented to members of the Intelligence Community some months before.

Following are highlights of the brief presented to the Commissioners by Director Tenet and senior officials of the Intelligence Community:

The IC has expanded its analyses of ballistic missiles as regional and national threats, including examining space launch vehicle conversions that could pose a threat, the threat implications of North Korea’s Taepo Dong missiles, and the extent to which Scud missile technology could be pushed to increase the threat. Some of these efforts have already resulted in classified and unclassified publications.

The IC is involving multiple contractors, outside experts, and plans to involve former Commission members in its annual review of the ballistic missile threat, to be published this year as a National Intelligence Estimate.

The Assistant Director Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production is conducting a study of the IC’s analytic capabilities addressing many issues in The Commission’s Report, including how to reinvigorate S&T analysis, expand competitive analysis and red teaming, and develop alternative scenarios and advanced methodologies.

The Assistant Director Central Intelligence for Collection has established an interagency task force and senior review panel. They have examined collection management within the IC, identified specific deficiencies, and developed a set of recommendations for the DCI and program managers to review, including collaborative and innovative strategies to assess and enhance collection.

The DCI stressed that future collection systems must include capabilities to counter denial and deception measures.

new initiatives against denial and deception

The DCI will convene a panel of former senior government officials to review the IC’s implementation of PDD-35.

Principle drafters of national estimates will have full access to all relevant compartmented intelligence and the IC will review all compartmentation practices that affect intelligence production.

The IC will ensure that presentations and reports on the missile threat provide policy makers with a clear representation of what the IC knows, what it doesn't know, what it can't know, and finally what it judges based on evidence, the lack thereof, and expertise from inside and outside the government. The IC has also become much more explicit and detailed in its discussions about warning, indicating what can and cannot be warned, noting cities that can be reached by specific missiles and payloads, and warning of the potential threats before "deployment."

The Commission is encouraged by the steps that the DCI has undertaken to implement the recommendations presented in our classified Report on the ballistic missile threat to the United States and in our Classified Intelligence Side Letter. The Commission also welcomes by the Intelligence Community’s increased interest in using expertise from outside sources, including scientific and engineering experts.